January 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

A Rare Visitor © Dawn Currie © 2013
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Buffleheads, one of our smallest diving ducks, avoid predators faster by diving than by “running” on the water required to take flight.  This male’s powerfully churning feet uplift its tail.  To dive, they powerfully thrust with their feet, lean forward, and leap upward to plunge underwater.  Wings held close to their bodies, they use only their legs to propel them.  The photograph of this beautifully patterned duck, in clear focus, was taken by Dawn Currie using her Canon EOS REBEL T2i (100-400mm lens, 1.4x extender, effective focal length was 560mm; manual exposure – 1/640 sec., f/8, ISO 400).  Currie catches the iridescent purples and greens on this male’s head, a striking contrast to the bold white patch feathers he can puff up, giving its name related to the large head of buffaloes.

Rare visitors to Central Florida, this year many birders have seen Buffleheads at our coastal wetland ponds feeding on crustaceans and mollusks in shallow waters.  These almost exclusively monogamous ducks do not breed in Florida.  By March these “Butterballs” fly at night at about 40 mph to Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Ontario, Canada, in less than two weeks.  Returning to their natal breeding areas year after year, the Buffleheads reuse the same site (often an abandoned Flicker’s nest tree cavity).

Females incubate the eggs for about a month.  All eggs hatch within 12 hours.  Born precocial, hatchlings are fully covered with down, eyes open.  At mother’s urgent call, each leaves the nest the next morning, jumping from the tree cavity.  On the ground, the mother leads them together to the nearest water to swim and feed.  She deserts her brood when they are 5 weeks old, before they can fly.  With other juveniles, they manage to learn to fly and migrate to warmer climes for the winter all on their own.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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